The Republic of Ireland, often referred to as simply Ireland, is a country in north-western Europe occupying five-sixths of the island of Ireland. The remainder of the island is occupied by Northern Ireland, a constituent state of the United Kingdom. Besides Northern Ireland to its north, it is also bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and by the Irish Sea to the east.
More than 40 million Americans, and millions of others around the world, call the Emerald Isle their ancestral home, due in large part to mass exodus during the Irish potato famine of the 1800s.
Its rugged western coast, majestic scenery and rolling green hills allow one to believe in the abundance of folklore that had its birthplace here. A rich heritage of culture and tradition is part of the Irish character and reputation.
GeographyPolitical map of Ireland.
The island of Ireland extends over 32,556 square miles, (84,421 square kilometers) of which 83 percent belong to the republic (70,280 km²;) and the remainder constituting Northern Ireland. The republic is slightly larger than the U.S. state of West Virginia.
It is bound to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the northeast by the North Channel, to the east is the Irish Sea which reconnects to the ocean via the southwest with St George's Channel and the Celtic Sea.
The ocean is responsible for the rugged western coastline, along which are many islands, peninsulas, and headlands. The main geographical features of Ireland are low central plains surrounded by a ring of coastal mountains. The highest peak is Carrauntoohil (Irish language: Corrán Tuathail), which is at 3406 feet (1038 meters).
The local temperate climate is modified by the North Atlantic Current and is relatively mild. Summer temperatures commonly reach 84ºF (29ºC), and freezes occur only occasionally in winter, with temperatures below 21ºF ( -6ºC) being uncommon. Precipitation is common, with up to 275 days with rain in some parts of the country.
There are a number of sizable lakes along Ireland's rivers, with Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland the largest. The island is bisected by the River Shannon, which at 161 miles (259km) with a 70 mile (113km) estuary, is the longest river in Ireland, and which flows south from County Cavan in the north to meet the Atlantic just south of Limerick. The center of the country is part of the River Shannon watershed, containing large areas of bogland, used for peat extraction and production.Irish countrysideSlieve League in County Donegal is a fine example of early Irish rock formation.Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge over the River Liffey.
Ireland has fewer animal and plant species than either Britain or mainland Europe because it became an island shortly after the end of the last Ice Age, about 8000 years ago. Many different habitat types are found in Ireland, including farmland, open woodland, temperate forests, conifer plantations, peat bogs, and various coastal habitats.
Forest of oak, ash, wych elm, birch, and yew was once the natural dominant vegetation, but centuries of farming have reduced it to five percent of the total area. Pine was dominant on poorer soils, with rowan and birch. Beech and lime thrive when introduced. Remnants of native forest can be found scattered around the country, in particular in the Killarney National Park.
Only 26 land mammal species are native to Ireland. Some species, such as the red fox, hedgehog, and badger are very common, whereas others, like the Irish hare, red deer and pine marten are less so. Aquatic wild-life - such as species of turtle, shark, whale, dolphin, and others - are common off the coast. About 400 species of birds have been recorded in Ireland. Many of these are migratory, including the swallow. Most of Ireland's bird species come from Iceland, Greenland, Africa among other territories. There are no snakes and only one reptile (the common lizard) is native to the country. Extinct species include the great Irish elk, the wolf, the great auk, and others. Some previously extinct birds - such as the golden eagle - have recently been reintroduced Ireland is noted for the Connemara pony, Irish wolfhound, Kerry blue terrier, while several types of cattle and sheep are recognized as distinct breeds.
Agriculture is the main factor determining land-use patterns in Ireland, leaving limited land to preserve natural habitats in particular for larger wild mammals with greater territorial requirements. With no top predator in Ireland, populations of animals that cannot be controlled by smaller predators (such as the fox) are controlled by annual culling, such as semi-wild populations of deer. Hedgerows, traditionally used for maintaining and demarcating land boundaries, act as a refuge for native wild flora. Their ecosystems stretch across the countryside and act as a network of connections to preserve remnants of the ecosystem that once covered the island.
Pollution from agricultural activities is one of the principal sources of environmental damage. "Runoff" of contaminants into streams, rivers and lakes impact the natural fresh-water ecosystems. Subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy which supported these agricultural practices and contributed to land-use distortions are undergoing reforms The CAP still subsidizes some potentially destructive agricultural practices, however, the recent reforms have gradually decoupled subsidies from production levels and introduced environmental and other requirements.
The capital city is Dublin, population 1,046,000, located near the midpoint of Ireland's east coast, at the mouth of the River Liffey and at the center of the Dublin Region. Founded as a Viking settlement, the city has been Ireland's primary city since mediæval times. Today, it is an economic and cultural center for the island of Ireland, and has one of the fastest growing populations of any European capital city. Other cities include Cork 190,400 in the south, Limerick 90,800 in the mid-west, Galway 72,700 on the west coast, and Waterford 49,200 on the south east coast.
HistoryStone age passage tombs at Carrowmore, County Sligo.Newgrange, County Meath.
Most of Ireland was covered with ice until about 9000 years ago, during the Ice Age. Sea-levels were lower then, and Ireland, as with its neighbor Britain, instead of being islands, were part of a greater continental Europe. Mesolithic middle stone age inhabitants arrived some time after 8000 B.C.E. About 4000 B.C.E., sheep, goats, cattle and cereals were imported from southwest continental Europe. At the Céide Fields in County Mayo, an extensive Neolithic field system - arguably the oldest in the world - has been preserved beneath a blanket of peat. Consisting of small fields separated from one another by dry-stone walls, the Céide Fields were farmed between 3500 and 3000 B.C.E. Wheat and barley were the principal crops in this high Neolithic culture, characterized by the appearance of pottery, polished stone tools, rectangular wooden houses and communal megalithic tombs. Four main types of megalithic tomb have been identified: Portal Tombs, Court Tombs, Passage Tombs (of Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Carrowkeel and Carrowmore), and Wedge Tombs. Some tombs are astronomically aligned. Newgrange is the oldest surviving building in the world.
About 400 megalithic wedge tombs associated with Beaker pottery dominate western Ireland, and mark the early Bronze Age, which began around 2500 B.C.E. in Ireland. Curiously, since there is no known source of tin (required to combine with copper to make the alloy bronze) in Ireland, the source is likely to be elsewhere. Similar tombs are common in Brittany, France. In the eastern areas of Ireland, a single-burial tradition dominates, with Beaker-style pottery similar to that in the lowland Rhine or farther north. Ireland had a flourishing metal industry, exporting bronze, copper, and gold objects to Britain and the Continent.
The main Celtic arrivals occurred in the Iron Age. The Celts, an Indo-European group who are thought to have originated in the second millennium B.C.E. in east-central Europe, are traditionally thought to have colonized Ireland in a series of waves between the eighth and first centuries B.C.E., with the Gaels, the last wave of Celts, conquering the island.
Ireland was never formally a part of the Roman Empire. The Romans referred to Ireland as Hibernia. Ptolemy in 100 C.E. recorded Ireland's geography and tribes.
The Five FifthsRing fort on the island of Inishmaan, Aran Islands, Ireland. Photograph by Jonathan Leonard.
Celtic society consisted of a number of independent petty kingdoms, or tuatha (clans), each with an elected king, which coalesced into five groups of tuatha, known as the Five Fifths (Cuíg Cuígí), about the beginning of the Christian era. These were Ulster, Meath, Leinster, Munster, and Connaught.
Each king was surrounded by an aristocracy, with clearly defined land and property rights, and whose main wealth was in cattle. Céilí, or clients supported greater landowners by tilling the soil and tending the cattle. Individual families were the basic units of society. The written judicial system was the Brehon Law, and it was administered by professional learned jurists who were known as the Brehons. Society was based on cattle rearing and agriculture. The principal crops were wheat, barley, oats, flax, and hay. Plows drawn by oxen were used to till the land. Sheep were bred for wool, and pigs for slaughter. Fishing, hunting, fowling, and trapping provided further food. Dwellings were built by the post-and-wattle technique, and some were situated within ring forts.
Each of the Five Fifths had its own king, although Ulster in the north was dominant at first. Niall Noigiallach (died c.450/455) laid the basis for the Uí Néill dynasty's hegemony over much of western, northern and central Ireland. By the time he died, hegemony had passed to his midland kingdom of Meath. In the sixth century, descendants of Niall, ruling at Tara in northern Leinster, claimed to be overkings of Ulster, Connaught, and Meath, and later, they claimed to be kings of all of Ireland.
Raids on England
From the mid-third century C.E., the Irish, who were at that time called Scoti rather than the older term Hiberni, carried out frequent raiding expeditions. Raids became incessant in the second half of the fourth century, when Roman power in Britain was beginning to crumble. The Irish settled along the west coast of Britain, Wales and Scotland.
Saints Palladius and PatrickSaint Patrick.
According to early medieval chronicles, in 431, Bishop Palladius arrived in Ireland on a mission from Pope Celestine to minister to the Irish "already believing in Christ." The same chronicles record that Saint Patrick, Ireland's patron saint, arrived in 432. There is continued debate over the missions of Palladius and Patrick, but the general consensus is that they both existed and that seventh century annalists may have mis-attributed some of their activities to each other. Palladius most likely went to Leinster, while Patrick is believed to have gone to Ulster, where he probably spent time in captivity as a young man.
Patrick is traditionally credited with preserving the tribal and social patterns of the Irish, codifying their laws and changing only those that conflicted with Christian practices. He is also credited with introducing the Roman alphabet, which enabled Irish monks to preserve parts of the extensive Celtic oral literature. The historicity of these claims remains the subject of debate. There were Christians in Ireland long before Patrick came, and pagans long after he died. However, it is undoubtedly true that Patrick played a crucial role in transforming Irish society.
The druid tradition collapsed in the face of the spread of Christianity. Irish Christian scholars excelled in the study of Latin and Greek learning and Christian theology in the monasteries that flourished, preserving Latin and Greek learning during the Early Middle Ages. The arts of manuscript illumination, metalworking, and sculpture flourished and produced such treasures as the Book of Kells, ornate jewelery, and the many carved stone crosses that dot the island.
English raid Ireland
In 684 C.E., an English expeditionary force sent by Northumbrian King Ecgfrith invaded Ireland in the summer of that year. The English forces managed to seize a number of captives and booty, but they apparently did not stay in Ireland for long.
Irish monasticismThis page (folio 292r) contains the lavishly decorated text that opens the Gospel of John.
Christian settlements in Ireland were loosely linked, usually under the auspices of a great saint. By the late sixth century, numerous Irishmen devoted themselves to an austere existence as monks, hermits, and as missionaries to pagan tribes in Scotland, the north of England, and in west-central Europe. A comprehensive monastic system developed in Ireland, partly influenced by Celtic monasteries in Britain, through the sixth and seventh centuries.
The monasteries became notable centers of learning. Christianity brought Latin, Irish scribes produced manuscripts written in the Insular style, which spread to Anglo-Saxon England and to Irish monasteries on the European continent. Initial letters were illuminated. The most famous Irish manuscript is the Book of Kells, a copy of the four Gospels probably dating from the late eighth century, while the earliest surviving illuminated manuscript is the Book of Durrow, probably made 100 years earlier.
Viking raidersThe round tower at Glendalough.
Vikings from Norway looted the island of Lambay, located off the Dublin in 795, the first recorded Viking raid on Ireland. Early Viking raids were small in scale and quick, but they interrupted the golden age of Christian Irish culture. Over the next 200 years, waves of Viking raiders plundered monasteries and towns throughout Ireland. By the early 840s, the Vikings began to establish settlements along the Irish coasts, at Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Cork, and Arklow, and spent the winter months there.
In 852, the Vikings Ivar Beinlaus and Olaf the White landed in Dublin Bay and established a fortress, on which the city of Dublin stands. Olaf was the son of a Norwegian king and made himself the king of Dublin. Intermarriage led to the emergence of a group with mixed Irish and Norse ethnic background arose (the so-called Gall-Gaels, Gall then being the Irish word for "foreigners"-the Norse). The descendants of Ivar Beinlaus established a long dynasty based in Dublin, and from this base succeeded in briefly dominating large parts of central and eastern Ireland, and became traders. However, the Vikings never achieved total domination of Ireland, often fighting for and against various Irish kings, including Flann Sinna, Cerball mac Dúnlainge and Niall Glúndub. Ultimately they were suborned by King Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill of Meath at the battle of Tara in 980.
First king of IrelandBrian Boru, the first king of all Ireland.
Two branches of the descendants of Niall Noigiallach, the Cenél nEogain, of the northern Uí Néill, and the Clan Cholmáin, of the southern Uí Néill, alternated as kings of Ireland from 734 to 1002. Brian Boru (941 - 1014) became the first High King of all Ireland (árd rí Éireann) in 1002. King Brian Boru subsequently united most of the Irish Kings and Chieftains to defeat the Danish King of Dublin who led an army of Irish and Vikings at the Battle of Clontarfin 1014.
An unsettled period followed the Battle of Clontarf, in which high kings succeeding Brian Boru were unable to assert complete rule. The kings of Munster and Connaught, Leinster and Ulster allied with the ecclesiastical reform movement of western Europe as it extended into Ireland in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. A system of dioceses corresponding with the chief petty kingdoms was set up, with the archbishopric of Armagh at the head of this hierarchy, in association with the province of Ulster which was dominated by the royal family of Uí Néill.
The Anglo-Norman invasionA tower house near Quin. The Normans consolidated their presence in Ireland by building hundreds of castles and towers.
By the twelfth century, power was exercised by the heads of a few regional dynasties vying against each other for supremacy over the whole island. One of these, the King of Leinster Diarmait Mac Murchada was forcibly exiled from his kingdom by the new High King, Ruaidri mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair. Fleeing to Aquitaine, Diarmait obtained permission from Henry II to use the Norman forces to regain his kingdom. The first Norman knight landed in Ireland in 1167, followed by the main forces of Normans, Welsh and Flemings in Wexford in 1169. Within a short time Leinster was regained, Waterford and Dublin were under the control of Diarmait, who named his son-in-law, Richard de Clare, heir to his kingdom.
This caused consternation to King Henry II of England, who feared the establishment of a rival Norman state in Ireland. Accordingly, he resolved to establish his authority. With the authority of the papal bull Laudabiliter from Adrian IV, Henry landed with a large fleet at Waterford in 1171, becoming the first King of England to set foot on Irish soil. Henry awarded his Irish territories to his younger son John with the title Dominus Hiberniae ("Lord of Ireland"). When John unexpectedly succeeded his brother as King John, the "Lordship of Ireland" fell directly under the English Crown.Ireland in 1014: a patch-work of rival kingdoms.The extent of Norman control of Ireland in 1300.
The Lordship of Ireland
Initially the Normans controlled the entire east coast, from Waterford up to eastern Ulster and penetrated as far west as Galway, Kerry and Mayo. The most powerful lords in the land were the great Hiberno-Norman Lord of Leinster from 1171, Earl of Meath from 1172, Earl of Ulster from 1205, Earl of Connaught from 1236, Earl of Kildare from 1316, the Earl of Ormonde from 1328 and the Earl of Desmond from 1329 who controlled vast territories, known as Liberties which functioned as self-administered jurisdictions with the Lordship of Ireland owing feudal fealty to the King in London. The first Lord of Ireland was King John, who visited Ireland in 1185 and 1210 and helped consolidate the Norman-controlled areas, while at the same time ensuring that the many Irish kings swore fealty to him.
The Norman-Irish established feudal baronies, manors, towns and large land-owning monastic communities, and the county system through most of the lowlands. King John established a civil government independent of the feudal lords, divided the country into counties for administrative purposes, introduced English law, and sought to reduce feudal "liberties," which were lands held in the personal control of aristocratic families and the church. The Irish Parliament paralleled that of its English counterpart.
Throughout the thirteenth century, the English Kings aimed to weaken the power of the Norman Lords in Ireland.
Gaelic resurgenceThe Black Death rapidly spread along the major European sea and land trade routes. It reached Ireland in 1348 and decimated the Hiberno-Norman urban settlements.The extent of Anglo-Irish control of Ireland in 1450, showing lands recaptured by native Irish (green), and lands held by Anglo-Irish lords (blue) and the English king (red).
By 1261 the weakening of the Anglo-Normans had become manifest when Fineen Mac Carthy defeated a Norman army at the Battle of Callann, County Kerry, and killed John fitz Thomas, Lord of Desmond, his son Maurice fitz John and eight other barons. In 1315, Edward Bruce of Scotland invaded Ireland, gaining the support of many Gaelic lords against the English. Although Bruce was eventually defeated at the Battle of Faughart, the war caused a great deal of destruction, especially around Dublin. In this chaotic situation, local Irish lords won back large amounts of land that their families had lost since the conquest and held them after the war was over.
The Black Death arrived in Ireland in 1348. Because most of the English and Norman inhabitants of Ireland lived in towns and villages, the plague hit them far harder than it did the native Irish, who lived in more dispersed rural settlements. After it had passed, Gaelic Irish language and customs came to dominate the country again. The English-controlled area shrunk back to the Pale, a fortified area around Dublin that ran through the counties of Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, and the Earldoms of Kildare, Ormonde and Desmond.
Outside the Pale, the Hiberno-Norman lords adopted the Irish language and customs, becoming known as the Old English, and in the words of a contemporary English commentator, became "more Irish than the Irish themselves." Over the following centuries they sided with the indigenous Irish in political and military conflicts with England and stayed Catholic after the Reformation.
By the end of the fifteenth century, central English authority in Ireland had all but disappeared. England's attentions were diverted by its Wars of the Roses (civil war). The Lordship of Ireland lay in the hands of the powerful Fitzgerald Earl of Kildare, who dominated the country by means of military force and alliances with lords and clans around Ireland. Around the country, local Gaelic and Gaelicised lords expanded their powers at the expense of the English government in Dublin.
The Reformation, before which, in 1532, Henry VIII broke with Papal authority, fundamentally changed Ireland. While Henry VIII broke English Catholicism from Rome, his son Edward VI moved further, breaking with Papal doctrine completely. While the English, the Welsh and, later, the Scots accepted Protestantism, the Irish remained Catholic. This influenced their relationship with England for the next four hundred years, as the Reformation coincided with a determined effort on behalf of the English to re-conquer and colonize Ireland. This sectarian difference meant that the native Irish and the (Roman Catholic) Old English were excluded from political power.
Re-conquest and rebellionHenry VIII of England.
From 1536, Henry VIII decided to re-conquer Ireland. The Fitzgerald dynasty of Kildare, who had become the effective rulers of Ireland in the fifteenth century, had invited Burgundian troops into Dublin to crown the Yorkist pretender, Lambert Simnel as King of England in 1497. Again in 1536, Silken Thomas Fitzgerald went into open rebellion against the crown. Having put down this rebellion, Henry VIII resolved to bring Ireland under English government control so the island would not become a base for future rebellions or foreign invasions of England.
In 1541, Henry upgraded Ireland from a lordship to a full Kingdom, and Henry was proclaimed King of Ireland at a meeting of the Irish Parliament attended by the Gaelic Irish chieftains as well as the Hiberno-Norman aristocracy. The re-conquest was completed during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, after several bloody conflicts-the Desmond Rebellions (1569-1573 and 1579-1583 and the Nine Years War 1594-1603.
After this point, the English authorities in Dublin established real control over Ireland for the first time, bringing a centralized government to the entire island, and successfully disarmed the native lordships. However, the English were not successful in converting the Catholic Irish to the Protestant religion and the brutal methods used by crown authority to pacify the country heightened resentment of English rule.
From the mid-sixteenth and into the early seventeenth centuries, crown governments carried out a policy of colonization known as Plantations. Scottish and English Protestants were sent as colonists to the provinces of Munster, Ulster and the counties of Laois and Offaly. These settlers, who had a British and Protestant identity, would form the ruling class of future British administrations in Ireland. A series of Penal Laws discriminated against all faiths other than the established (Anglican) Church of Ireland. The principal victims of these laws were Catholics and later Presbyterians.
Civil wars and penal lawsAfter Irish Catholic rebellion and civil war, Oliver Cromwell, on behalf of the English Commonwealth, re-conquered Ireland and transferred land ownership to Protestant colonists.
The seventeenth century was perhaps the bloodiest in Ireland's history. Two periods of civil war (1641-1653 and 1689-1691) caused huge loss of life and resulted in the final dispossession of the Irish Catholic landowning class and their subordination under the Penal Laws. Irish Catholics rebelled against English and Protestant domination in 1641, and killed thousands of Protestant settlers. The Catholic gentry briefly ruled the country as Confederate Ireland (1642-1649) against the background of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms until Oliver Cromwell re-conquered Ireland in 1649-1653 on behalf of the English Commonwealth. Cromwell's conquest was the most brutal phase of a brutal war. By its close, up to a third of Ireland's pre-war population was dead or in exile. As punishment for the rebellion of 1641, almost all lands owned by Irish Catholics were confiscated and given to British settlers. Several hundred remaining native landowners were transplanted to Connacht.King James VII and II.
Ireland became the main battleground after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Catholic James II left London and the English Parliament replaced him with William of Orange. The wealthier Irish Catholics backed James to try to reverse the remaining Penal Laws and land confiscations, whereas Protestants supported William to preserve their property in the country. James and William fought for the Kingdom of Ireland in the Williamite War, most famously at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, where James's outnumbered forces were defeated. Jacobite resistance was finally ended after the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691. The Penal Laws that had been relaxed somewhat after the English Restoration were re-enacted more thoroughly after this war, as the Protestant elite wanted to ensure that the Irish Catholic landed classes would not be in a position to repeat their rebellions.
Colonial Ireland 1691-1801Henry Grattan.
Subsequent Irish antagonism towards England was aggravated by the economic situation of Ireland in the eighteenth century. Some absentee landlords managed some of their estates inefficiently, and food tended to be produced for export rather than for domestic consumption. Two very cold winters led directly to the Great Irish Famine (1740-1741), which killed about 400,000 people, affecting all of Europe. In addition, Irish exports were reduced by the Navigation Acts from the 1660s, which placed tariffs on Irish produce entering England, but exempted English goods from tariffs on entering Ireland. Some Irish Catholics remained attached to Jacobite ideology in opposition to the Protestant Ascendancy until the death of "James III & VII" in 1766. Thereafter, the Papacy recognized the Hanoverians as the legitimate rulers. Most of the eighteenth century was relatively peaceful in comparison with the preceding 200 years, and the population doubled to over four million.
By the late eighteenth century, many of the Irish Protestant elite had come to see Ireland as their native country. A parliamentary faction led by Henry Grattan agitated for a more favorable trading relationship with England and for greater legislative independence for the Parliament of Ireland. However, reform in Ireland stalled over the more radical proposals to enfranchise Irish Catholics. This was enabled in 1793, but Catholics could not yet enter parliament or become government officials. Some were attracted to the more militant example of the French Revolution of 1789. They formed the Society of the United Irishmen to overthrow British rule and found a non-sectarian republic. Their activity culminated in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which was bloodily suppressed.
Union with Great BritainDaniel O'Connell.
Largely in response to the 1798 rebellion, Irish self-government was abolished altogether by the Act of Union on January 1, 1801, which merged Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain (itself a union of England and Scotland, created almost 100 years earlier), to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Part of the deal was that discrimination against Catholics, Presbyterians, and others (Catholic emancipation), would end. However, King George III controversially blocked any change. In 1823, an enterprising Catholic lawyer, Daniel O'Connell, known as "the Great Liberator" began a successful campaign to achieve emancipation, which was finally conceded in 1829. He later led an unsuccessful campaign for "Repeal of the Act of Union."
The second of Ireland's "great famines," An Gorta Mór struck the country severely in the period 1845-1849, with potato blight leading to mass starvation and emigration. The population dropped from over eight million before the famine to 4.4 million in 1911. The Irish language, once the spoken language of the entire island, declined in use sharply in the nineteenth century, largely replaced by English.Michael Davitt.
Outside mainstream nationalism, a series of violent rebellions by Irish republicans took place in 1803, under Robert Emmet; in 1848 a rebellion by the Young Irelanders, most prominent among them, Thomas Francis Meagher; and in 1867, another insurrection by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. All failed, but physical force nationalism remained an undercurrent in the nineteenth century.
The late nineteenth century also witnessed major land reform, spea